Monday, November 08, 2010

Nose Piercing

So a little girl recently asked her mother, are ladies that have nose rings Christians?

Now on the one hand this might seem like a silly question. Are ladies who wear jeans Christians? Are ladies who drive Subarus Christians?

And as it happens, we have a number of godly, Christian women in our community with a nose piercing. So the question is not an irrelevant one.

So what should a conscientious mother or father say to such a question?

First, it is manifestly obvious that there is nothing sinful in itself with a Christian woman having a ring in her nose. Abraham's servant brought just such a gift for Rebekah (Gen. 24:22). And God Himself says that He put a jewel in the nose of Israel when He married her at Sinai (Ez. 16:12). Clearly, a nose piercing can be a most lovely thing, a sign of Christian love and affection, particularly for a married woman. In the context of these particular passages, like earrings, a nose piercing seems to symbolize the beauty of a Christian woman submitting to her husband. And three cheers for lovely Christian women.

Second, like most good things, the world likes to take them and twist them and turn them into signs of their rebellion and hatred toward God. And this has clearly happened in the case of nose piercings. In other cultures (like India and Nepal), nose piercing has remained relatively normal, though apparently somewhat through the influence of certain Hindu beliefs. But in the modern West, it is universally recognized that the resurgence of nose piercing has come about in conjunction with widespread rebellion. Which in itself is fairly ironic since in the biblical texts, as we noted, piercing is frequently associated with the beauty of Christian submission. So the question becomes how do Christians both cling to the Word of God as their standard for aesthetics and refuse to take part in the rebellion of the culture around them?

Paul seems to have something fairly similar going on in his day with meat offered to idols. He knows that idols are nothing, and that meat offered to Zeus isn't unclean when Christians receive it with thankful hearts to the true God of heaven. But Paul says that he'd rather be a vegetarian than offend anyone for the sake of a wonderful, slab of meaty goodness.

And I think this parallel actually works quite well. Paul is up against Judaizers who are busy insisting that faith in Jesus is not sufficient for salvation, that believing Gentiles must also keep the holiness code of the Old Testament and on the other hand there are the freshly converted pagans who just minutes ago were sleeping with temple prostitutes and eating medium rare steaks as acts of worship to Athena. On the one hand Paul might be tempted to give the Judaizers the finger and tell everyone to order up the steaks. And he has some pretty harsh words for Judaizers elsewhere. You can't really accuse Paul of being a softy on them. On the other hand, Paul knew that the freshly converted pagans were the young believers, the ones with weak consciences. So he says it's worth being very careful. Which means that Paul ran the risk of looking or sounding like a Judaizer for encouraging people not to eat meat not because it was unclean but for the sake of weak consciences. And Paul's conclusion is, "... if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love..." (Rom. 14:15).

When it comes to certain cultural practices that are not required by God's word, we should be glad to defer to love. Our calling is to love one another and to defer to one another. We are called to look for ways to be a blessing and an encouragement in the faith to one another. We are conspiring to bless. Which means having a keen awareness of the sorts of things that are sure to bless, sure to encourage faith and joy and good works, and being aware of those things that might be a blessing to some but not to others (though they may be perfectly moral in themselves).

If I bring home dessert to my wife and it is not loaded with dark chocolate, I am a failure as a husband. Anyone who knows my wife knows that God has designed her to be sanctified through dark chocolate. This is a deep mystery, but I am speaking of Christ and the Church. And actually I am. Christ comes looking to save, looking to heal, looking to set free, looking to redeem many captives from slavery. His aim was not: 'How much can I get away with and still be the Son of God?' His aim was Life, abundant life, high octane liberty which was found ultimately in laying His life down, giving up His rights, becoming a servant to all and for all.

But we live in a world that is not interested in this kind of wisdom. We live in a world full of people in high rebellion to our Lord Jesus. And that rebellion is expressed in countless ways, and if that were not already complicated enough, we have the responsibility of training up our children to recognize the difference between darkness and light, the difference between godly freedom and satanic slavery. And part of that training includes recognizing uniforms and costumes. Of course we cannot see the heart, and of course mature, godly wisdom does not function on superficial, legalistic dress codes. And a faithful, evangelistic Church is going to be full of people who look like they have been saved from the world. Because as it turns out that's what Jesus is doing.

But when my son looks out the window as we drive by the local high school and casually points out a group of hoodlums to his friend in the backseat and says, "those kids don't love Jesus," I do not freak out thinking that my son has suddenly become a legalistic fundamentalist. I smile and thank God that he is beginning to recognize differences in the world. He's beginning to recognize the uniforms. Of course biblical wisdom can't stop there, and recognizing the uniforms must be married to a robust, evangelistic love for the lost, but our children need to be taught that rebellion *looks* a certain way. And frequently for the last several decades, nose piercings have been part of the getup.

And this isn't meant as any kind of backhanded insult to anyone. I have friends who are lovely, Christian women who have nose piercings. And personally, I do not find their piercings offensive in the slightest. But here would be the one cautionary question: Are there any in the broader Christian community who might be offended by your freedom? What do your mothers and your grandmothers think? What do they *really* think? And if they told you it wasn't their favorite, would that offend you? If another Christian woman asked whether it was really a good idea, would there be a gracious, quiet spirit replying or would there be a defensive attitude?

If you and your husband grew up in homes where nose piercing was just part of the normal, godly, feminine routine, then God bless you and I pray that your daughters grow up to be just like you. If your parents and grandparents and the wives of your elders and pastors all think it's just the greatest thing in the world, then that's wonderful and I'm not worried about a thing.

But the little girl who asked her mother whether ladies with nose rings are Christians or not was a real girl and she was asking a pretty reasonable question. And a wise mother or father needs of course to tell her that there are godly women who have nose piercings. And at the same time, some of those parents may want to also explain why their family doesn't. And it wouldn't be because it's a sin to put a jewel in your nose. Of course not. But the answer would be something like, 'But sweetie, we don't have time for that. There are so many other wonderful things that the Lord has given us to bless one another with.' It's like trying to make it to the big city for a concert or a professional sporting event in time and someone suggesting you take "the back way" or a "short cut." Of course if everyone agrees the "short cut" is really the way to go, then by all means, take the short cut. But if you're really in a hurry and you decide to take the "road less traveled," you must also recognize that you run the risk of showing up late. When you've got places to go, there's no time to worry about giving offense accidentally. There's already enough opportunity for that. And we've got plenty of work to do as the Church: people to love, people to serve, blessing to bestow, and life to live.

And of course perhaps postmillenially speaking, all the faithful, godly women will wear nose rings in a few hundred years. And if that's the case, praise God for that. But the way we will get there is not by pushing the limits and then telling the older women who object to cool their jets and chill out. The way we will get to a Christian civilization full of godly, nose-jeweled women (if that is indeed where we are headed) is through glad deference and joyful submission.

In other words, fighting for the symbol must begin by embodying the symbol. If we want to reclaim this particular symbol, if we want to take it back from the world, it will only happen as we take back what the nose ring actually means. And as we do that as communities and more broadly as the Church, God will bestow His beauty upon His people, and we can be sure that Christian women throughout the world will be like the daughters of Job.

And just to anticipate at least one specific question: what am I suggesting Christian women do who already have a nose piercing? I'm encouraging them to embody the symbol. Do whatever it takes to embody that lovely, Christian submission which the Scriptures call you to, remembering the "incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God" (1 Pet. 3:4). All jewelry, all adornment ought to always be merely a compliment to what is already there in the heart. For some Christian women, this may mean that they recognize some element of an unsubmissive spirit revealed in their adornment, and they ought to talk to their husbands and may need to rethink some things. If it was all love, all grace, all blessing to get the piercing, I have no concerns. But if there was any hint of 'I'm getting this piercing because I can and you can't tell me otherwise...' then your spirit doesn't match the symbol and the symbol may be communicating some of that spirit.

But the exhortation goes the other way as well. As Paul says in Romans, let every man be convinced in his own mind: if your wife has a nose piercing then do it to the Lord and if she does not, do that unto the Lord. But we do not live to ourselves, we live unto the Lord (Rom. 14:5-6). Walk in faith, love one another, and do everything you can to provoke one another to love and good works.


Matthew N. Petersen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

A few questions for your consideration, Toby:

(1) You write: "In the context of these particular passages, like earrings, a nose piercing seems to symbolize the beauty of a Christian woman submitting to her husband."

I don't see submission in the texts you cite. I see glorification: the husband gives his wife a nose ring to make her more beautiful. What's the Scriptural link, if any, with submission?

I ask in particular because I've heard some people make what I consider huge exegetical leaps from the ear-piercing of the slave who wants to stay with his master to the idea that earrings imply submission/slavery.

I call that a huge exegetical leap because (a) it's obvious from that passage itself that not all slaves had earrings and therefore earrings didn't mean that you were a slave, (b) the passage is about a form of adoption, so the earrings don't indicate slavishness so much as special status, and (c) there are numerous other passages that talk about earrings/nose rings that have nothing to do with slavery/submission.


John said...

(2) You write: "Are there any in the broader Christian community who might be offended by your freedom? What do your mothers and your grandmothers think? What do they *really* think? And if they told you it wasn't their favorite, would that offend you? If another Christian woman asked whether it was really a good idea, would there be a gracious, quiet spirit replying or would there be a defensive attitude?"

I wonder if you're using the word "offend" in the same way that Paul is. When Paul uses the word "offend/stumble," it doesn't mean "bother/tick off/irritate/produce a negative reaction," but the latter sense is the way we frequently use the word -- and it seems to me that you're using it in that latter sense here.

Paul doesn't want us to offend people, that is, he doesn't want us to lead them into sin. But he doesn't say that we should never do anything that "offends" people in the second sense above -- i.e., that leads to a negative reaction on their part.

If a woman in the church has a nosering, that may offend some people in the second sense.

But are there people who would be offended in the Pauline sense? Perhaps someone might say, "She has a nosering and so I can get one too, even though my parents said not to," but I don't think that means that the girl with the nosering ran afoul of Paul's warning. Someone could just as easily say, "She's eating a cookie and so I'm going to grab one even though Mommy said not to," but that doesn't mean that the cookie-eating-girl has "offended" the other or caused her to stumble.

Hopefully this is clear enough to make my question understandable: Is wearing a nosering (in itself something neutral and even something God wants His bride to do in Scripture) really something that can "offend" another in the Pauline sense?


John said...

(3) I can imagine that, as a husband, I might like my wife to wear something -- e.g., makeup -- that some other woman in the church dislikes (= is "offended" by, in the second sense above).

So what? To what degree do I, as a husband, need to take into account all the opinions of the women and men around?

I once heard of a man who was bothered by women in church who wear their hair up. It revealed their necks and earlobes and he found that attractive. He seemed to think it caused him to stumble. Should he encourage a woman's husband to have his wife wear her hair down so that he is not "offended" (in the Pauline sense)? Certainly not!

So ... if a husband thinks that nose rings are attractive and his wife is interested in having one too and so he gives her one for Christmas as a way of glorifying her -- imitating Yahweh -- to what degree (if any) does he need to take into account the other ladies in the church who might be "offended"?

Hope this helps the discussion.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

You ask the question: "Are there any in the broader Christian community who might be offended by your freedom? What do your mothers and your grandmothers think? What do they *really* think?"

Couldn't the same question be asked about drinking beer and wine outside communion?

I'm skeptical of arguments that say "but someone might take offense" because it's the exact same argument that gives us the PC nonsense and "sensitivity training" and such tyrannies.

Toby said...

Hi John,

Thanks for the questions and interaction.

1. John, on your first question, biblically speaking, I don't think a wife's submission to her husband is anything other than glory. She was made for man to be his glory. Peter says this in 1 Peter 3, and this is the scriptural link between adornment/jewelry and submission/glory.

2. I grant that Paul means "cause to sin" when he warns against "offending," but I don't think "cause to sin" only means "go back into idolatry" or "rebel." We can cause a brother to sin by inviting unnecessary responses, frustration, etc. Paul summarizes his concerns with the verse I quoted: "If your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love." Of course, we cannot guard against EVERY negative response to EVERYTHING. But we should look out for one another and do all we can to love one another. And of course Paul (and I) would insist that there are times when it is good and right to give offense. Jesus had no qualms with offending high handed legalism/tyranny. And there may be situations where a nose piercing could do just that. But this leads to your third question...

3. We cannot pretend that the question of nose piercing arrives with no history, no context. There is a history in America, there is a context. And all I'm insisting on is that Christians need to make sure that they are not furthering the rebellious spirit that introduced this practice to our culture. When it comes to concerns about a woman's ear lobes or neck showing when a woman wears her hair up, on the one hand, Christians should be willing to let love cover multitudes of sins and foibles (however silly) and dying for one another can include stuff like this. And on the other hand there are pretty clear differences between those kinds of concerns and practices that have been the uniform of the enemy in our culture over the last 20-30 years. I happen to think that it shouldn't be theirs, and that they have taken a symbol that rightly belongs to the Church. But you can't just start dressing up in a Nazi uniform and raising your hand in the air and then explain to all the horrified looks that you didn't mean anything offensive.

Same thing with the St. Andrews cross and its connection with the confederate flag. Symbols take on meanings whether or not we mean them ourselves. And even though the St. Andrews cross doesn't personally bother me a bit, and I know the true history of the symbol, I don't just go around flying the thing because I *know* that there are some who just won't understand. And I'd rather be careful. I'd rather love the brothers. I want to focus my love and blessing in ways that I know will bless.

And again, I'm not claiming that these offensive connotations are universal with nose piercing. If it was all grace and blessing, praise God, and maybe God is giving this symbol back to His people. But I'm more concerned with the Christians who are doing it because it's cool, it's edgy, and because they know it kind of bothers the older, Christian women but it's in the Bible so you can't tell me its a sin...

I hope that helps and makes sense!

Toby said...


Thanks and I certainly agree that an ambiguous and unbiblical standard of offense is no good. "Whatever bothers me" is not a good standard.

On the alcohol outside of worship question, I would say two things:

1. Christians should be willing to defer to their parents/grand parents lots and lots on the drinking issue. It will look different in different families, but I do think some young bucks dishonor their parents in the name of Christian liberty.

2. The difference between alcohol and nose piercing is that the former has had a fairly steady, robust Christian heritage in our culture. The temperance movement was a fairly small-scale blip on the map. Nose piercing on the other hand has just not been part of our western heritage for whatever reason. When a bunch of god hating movie stars and rock bands start putting metal in their faces, we can't pretend it came out of nowhere.

Again, I'm not saying we can't or shouldn't reclaim it, but just saying we should want our spirit to be as lovely as the symbol.

oldfatslow said...

All good stuff. I think
we also need to ask whether
something is there to enhance
or to destroy. I have seen
piercings (and tattoos for that
matter) that appear to be
done by people trying to
hurt themselves. There
is an uglification aspect
that can certainly be
argued against.


Matthew N. Petersen said...

That makes sense.

I think culturally it depends on what sort of nose piercing someone receives whether it's a sign of rebellion or now--at least it is now. A loop, like in your picture, is generally more rebellious than a stud. A stud doesn't seem to have any negative connotations any more.

Bike Bubba said...

Hmmm.....I guess I haven't had much experience with people showing offense to nose rings. Having a dozen piercings all over the face, yes. Nose ring, no.

And for what it's worth, in an age when too many think modesty means "you can show the whole breast as long as the nipple is covered," I tend to be pretty grateful when someone instead chooses to draw my attention to their face with a nose ring.

Ashley said...

Thank you for not being timid in approaching this controversial topic. I appreciate what you have to say, and am grateful for your wisdom on the topic.

I do not have a nose ring, not because I haven't wanted one, but because when I considered getting one (having gotten the "ok" from my husband), I went to my mother and then my mother-in-law and got their opinions.

I feel that when it comes to these things that have a worldly connotation, the best thing to do is get advice from those who have gone before us. Their reasons surprised me - neither said they thought they were distasteful or rebellious, but merely asked me if the edginess they portrayed is the first impression I want to give to people.

For me, a new mother living in the community that raised me, a nose ring would do nothing to enhance my growth in the Lord. It would serve to distract me and draw attention to me. For someone else, though, it might very well serve as a reminder of submission, etc.

We must realize that there is nothing wrong with people having different convictions on the same topic. Our God is a wonderful God, and the fact that a nose ring can serve to distract one person and be a spiritual reminder for another is just another wonderful reminder of His power.

Valerie (Kyriosity) said...

Came across this today and thought of your post.

Valerie (Kyriosity) said...

Having read the rest of the comments, it seems to me that there's as much 5th commandment as Romans 14 going on here.

Toby said...

Yes, I agree, Valerie. Thanks.

John said...

Thanks for the interaction, Toby. I don't want to drag this out, but ... a few comments in response:

(1) You wrote: "biblically speaking, I don't think a wife's submission to her husband is anything other than glory."

Well, sure. But I don't think it follows that submission and glorification are the same thing or that all forms of glorification are symbols of submission.

I can think of cases in which glorification does not symbolize submission (e.g., Absalom's hair) and of cases where we do not normally signify submission by decoration (e.g., the way we clothe our toddlers).

In other words, it needs to be argued, not merely asserted, that the nose-ring God gave Israel was a symbol of Israel's submission to God or that if I give my wife a pair of earrings or if she buys a pretty dress, that glorification is a symbol of her submission.

(2) You write: "I grant that Paul means "cause to sin" when he warns against "offending," but I don't think "cause to sin" only means "go back into idolatry" or "rebel." We can cause a brother to sin by inviting unnecessary responses, frustration, etc."

I'm not persuaded that Paul has these responses in mind. In context, he's talking about the weaker brother (who is the one who is caused to stumble, grieved, etc.). But someone who reacts negatively to a nose-ring is precisely not a weaker brother in the Pauline sense.

(3) I grant that we should love one another and look out for one another.

But I'm not persuaded that a woman would be unloving if she wore pants (or lipstick or earrings), even though she knows that Mrs. Smith in the congregation believes that women shouldn't ever wear pants (or lipstick or earrings).

If she wears pants (or lipstick or earrings) and Mrs. Smith gets upset about it, it's not the woman who is being unloving. It's Mrs. Smith.

(4) I grant that nose piercing in America today has a history and that Christians should not further a rebellious spirit.

I'm not sure, though, that nose piercings -- at least, a tiny stud in the nose -- have that connotation today as much as you think they do. Every fourth girl I see seems to have one; they were almost as common as jeans in Oregon and they're not much less common here in southwest Louisiana. I never think anything of it, and I doubt many others do either.

But be that as it may, perhaps it would be helpful to address how the church could reclaim this form of decoration besides a husband and wife (or parent and daughter) thinking it looks attractive (i.e., not just "it's cool, edgy, etc."), talking about it, examining what Scripture says, and deciding to go for it.

What's the extra step that needs to happen? Surely the extra step would not be that we wait until our (ungodly) culture spreads the practice so far that no one thinks anything of it ... and then it's okay for us to do it too. So what is the step?

Toby said...

Hey John,

Good thoughts and questions.

1. I agree that not all glory is submission, and that it needs to be argued that symbols of glory are also symbols of submission. And the short form of that argument is that the gifts of nose rings given in the OT were in the context of betrothal/marriage (although of course a nose piercing might mean something different in a different context), but Peter picks up the same sort of argument in 1 Peter 3 where he exhorts wives to submit to their husbands in their words, actions, and adornment. Their submissive demeanor should be manifested in their adornment (arranging hair, wearing gold, clothing, etc.). A nose piercing could mean more than the glory of Christian submission, but it cannot mean less than that.

2. Fair enough, but I think the same point could be made from other passages based on the same principle: honor your father and mother, submit to one another, spur one another on to love and good works, love your neighbor as yourself, etc.

3. I agree completely, and my point is just that we need to collectively get to the place where we know what we (as the Church) mean by nose piercing. To this point there has not been a lot of cheerful, godly conversation coupled with Bible studies, etc. Which is why the little girl who asked her mother about whether women with nose piercings are Christians wasn’t asking a completely insane question. She’s old enough and aware enough to have noticed a thing or two. And it’s also telling that she wouldn’t even think to ask about women who wear lipstick or jeans. And while nose piercing is growing very common in many places, this is not because Reformation is spreading like wild fire across the nation. But this relates to your number 4.

4. I likewise agree that nose piercings are more and more common, and they can be fairly tastefully done. There is a big difference between a tiny stud and big bull ring, just as there is a big difference between one or two tasteful earrings and giant spacers or spikes or whatever in the ears. As I noted in the original post, I have lots of friends with tasteful nose studs, and they don’t personally bother me a bit. My cautionary question was exactly (I think) what you’re asking: If people want to reclaim this adornment/symbol, how should they go about it? What’s the extra step that needs to happen?

My exhortation was just that: take the extra step of honoring parents, friends, pastors’ wives, etc. and to make sure they don’t do it because they are trying to be cool and edgy like the pagans around them, giving their parents or grandparents the finger, or the “it’s not in the Bible so you can’t tell me no” charade. As I said in the original post: If it was all grace, all blessing, and you studied the Biblical principles and your trusted friends and parents think it’s beautiful, then you’ve done it the right way, and I have no worries.

I hope that makes sense. Thanks for the dialogue, John.

Christina Parker Brown said...

that was a refreshing commentary about piercings. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I am 23 years old Married female who loves art and can find a nose ring beautiful I love God and his sacrifice for me as sinner. Rock Stars aren’t pretty or respectable icons and few have their lives together, I don’t look up too or want to be compared to them in some examples they are down right sad stories. In the bible something’s are good in some situations bad in others it really all depends on the reason behind the action. I want a nose ring not because I thinks rock stars are awesome but because of reading that particular bible verse and how pretty it was. I want a tattoo with the Jesus fish because I want to always stand up for what I believe in even when what I believe isn’t popular with the rest of society, if it’s literally written on my back there no denying it, its a constant reminder of who I am and what I stand for. I am not doing it to offend or promote offensive behavior. My mother and father love why I do the things I do and support me in doing them I actually had my mother help pick out the spot (lower back to help avoid offending people especially in professional situations and she would have normally been one to be offended) and I asked a bunch of family and friends on their opinion on the content before getting it. Am I still going to upset people yes unfortunately its close to impossible to not offend people at some point or another and if they’re worried about my well being because of a picture I put up in my house that God has given me or on my body/ Temple all I have to say is thank you so much for caring enough that you worry about me but if you have a complaint please pray about it either god will help you accept it or ill realize I made a mistake. Other then that we have a biblically appointed judge please do not take on extra unnecessary work.

Natalie said...

Interesting thoughts. I think regional differences play a huge role here as well. In the uber conservative midwestern homeschool circles that I run in, jeans and lipstick ARE frequently considered questionable. I don't find it a stretch at all to believe a little girl could honestly ask if women who wear jeans and/or lipstick are Christians. Peter Pan collars here are not a sign of hipsterism, but rather, of buttoned up to the top, old fashioned on purpose mothers of many.

The difficulty that I face, as a transplant, is that I have not chosen this extra-biblical uniform. My husband does not require or prefer me to wear it either. I think that my appearance and dress would be considered extremely modest in any other area of the country - as it was when I lived in the western US and I felt out of place occasionally at church for being the plain conservative one. However, I do wonder at times if the older women are raising an eyebrow at my boots and knee length skirt, since I know that their daughters are not permitted out of the house in similar outfits.

So when I consider a nose piercing, it's complicated. I think they can be altogether lovely and a small stud is very tasteful. I don't think they have any of the cultural connotations of a tongue or lip or eyebrow piercing. I think of them more as similar to an upper ear piercing than a bar through the ear or nose. I grew up in a vibrant reformed Baptist church with a large college population, many of whom I'm sure had nose studs. It doesn't jump out to me as a sign of rebellion, like a facial or neck tattoo, or a big round plug in the ear. But I'm pretty sure, to many in my community, a nose stud is tantamount to getting a tarantula tattoo'd across my face. But when the cultural dress code frowns on pants in church, and a large chunk of the group considers makeup problematic...part of me feels that "Are there any in the broader Christian community who might be offended by your freedom?"

is a hard question, because some of them are probably disapproving of my normal appearance. And gaining their approval, dress wise, would be dressing in a way my husband would not appreciate at all. So I guess I feel that my personal appearance is not going to be the favorite of some in my community no matter what, and since my husband and I do not choose the same standards of dress, it is not my responsibility to try to fit into this subculture in dress anymore than it is my responsibility not to listen to any secular music or to keep my daughters at home until they marry. I think I have a responsibility not to be rude about differences, or in their face...but is a nose stud so blatant as to be rude and in their face? Something to ponder. Thanks for the food for thought!